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Review: Okja

Netflix’s new monster movie was met with jeers at its Cannes premiere. The debate about whether Netflix films can be entered into film festivals still rages on and Okja was eventually met with applause. What I can’t quite understand is: Why are these films released onto Netflix with no fanfare, no hype? New series of Netflix originals such as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards are hyped to a fever pitch. You can’t watch a YouTube video without Crazy Eyes or Frank Underwood yelling at you to watch their series. Okja has been snuck out in the same way as War Machine (starring Brad Pitt) or The Discovery (starring Robert Redford): under the radar and without fanfare. Maybe this is due to the quality of the films, but Okja has been receiving lots of acclaim. However, it receives little acclaim from me.

I managed to buy a copy of director Joon-ho Bong’s Snowpiercer when I went on holiday to France (as the film has not been made available in the UK). I really didn’t like that film; the tone was all over the place, Chris Evans did not make a compelling lead and while Bong is a fantastic visual director, he has no restraint. I found the whole film a very frustrating experience. Okja is a similar story.

Okja is a “super-pig”, bred by the Mirando Corporation as part of a worldwide competition. For ten years, Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her grandfather have cared for Okja, but now the Mirando Corporation wants her back in order to turn her into a new food source for the planet. However, Mija wants her friend back and goes on an adventure to save her.

This film doesn’t really have a target audience. Perhaps this is why it hasn’t been marketed very much. I thought that this would be a Spielberg-ian family adventure. However, less than five minutes in, there was strong language (as the BBFC calls it). That rules out family viewing. However, Okja farting and pooping is a major plot element. But then it turns into Schindler’s List near the end. The tone fluctuates distractingly and the actors all seem to be in entirely different films.

Seo-Hyun Ahn is very moving as Mija, and is the heart of the film. She would make a great Spielberg lead but is hampered by the fact that she isn’t the focus of the film. She disappears in the middle section to make way for the famous Western actors. Paul Dano is quite good as a Vegetarian Animal Freedom Fighter as he is the most subtle of the actors. Swinton is as over the top as she was in Snowpiercer, and Lily Collins and Steven Yuen barely make an impression. Surprisingly, the worst performance in the film comes from the brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal who plays a character so gratingly annoying, loud and stupid that he’s intolerable from his first appearance.

I think my main issue with this film is that the Western actors do not gel with the Eastern tone and style of film making. This is a well-made and original film, but I feel like the direction is mixed. The tone and the performances vary but there are genuinely good scenes. However, good scenes do not make a good film.

If you managed to see Snowpiercer and enjoyed it, then perhaps you will enjoy this more than me. But I do believe Netflix needs to up its game in terms of film if they are ever to justify themselves as a studio.

Okja is available to watch on Netflix. Image source: Slashfilm.com